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I learn how Roman households cope with daily challenges.
Roman housewives - even the most efficient and well-to-do - don’t try to budget their costs these days.
“ Now we are living day by day,” says a mother of five small children who is considered a rich woman. “We just live as cheaply as we can.”
For her household of ten - five children, her husband, herself, a cook, a nursemaid and other maid - she spends approximately 4,000 lire a day, or about six dollars. That is a lot of money in this country where a white collar woman employee considers herself lucky if she earns $33 a month and a good maid may be engaged for fifteen dollars a month.
Even this mother, who can afford 4,000 lire a day for groceries, never buys bananas for anyone except the two smallest members of her family.
Because nobody has refrigerators and also because food shops do very little delivering, this Roman woman goes shopping every morning, often including Sunday. For a time an attempt was made to shut down the shops on Sunday, but there was so much grumbling that now they are open again.
Sugar, soap and a few tinned goods - that is all she asks the shop to deliver to her house. “The meat and fruit and vegetables and fish - I buy them all myself and bring them home. Otherwise, the shop-keepers would cheat me on the weight.”
Just having everything back in the shops again was a terrific thrill for all the Italians, particularly those who spent the last war days in Rome and ate potatoes with a few drops of oil - if they were lucky - and boiled down a bone or two for soup.
“ We nearly went crazy,” said Adelia Panunzio, twenty-four-year old young woman who works in a shopping service with a desk in an American airlines building.
“ During the war our father bought a bicycle and twice a week he rode 140 kilos (about 70 miles) to a spaghetti factory where he had known the owner and bought 80 pounds of farina and brought it back home.”
“ One day - you should have been me,” laughs a Roman noblewoman who lives alone with her mother, “One day I went down to the street in front of my house to take my turn in the line in front of the public fountain for two vessels of water. And I looked down and I saw one potato! You never saw anyone so happy over one little potato!”
So now, even though things are high, there is great happiness among the Italians that they exist.
It is an old Roman custom for the cook to steal a little here and there. When she wouldn’t think of touching anything else in the house she will short-change her mistress money-wise when she goes shopping for the family or will help herself to a little food now and then. Consequently, since the war Roman mistresses have taken to doing their own shopping.
All the best food still goes to the restaurants. The biggest oranges. The nicest fish.
Nobody thinks of buying a good steak. “It is 1300 lire a kilo (about a dollar/ a pound), so we just wouldn’t dream of it - only if somebody is sick.”
Eggs for the wonderful Italian omelets at 28 lire each now that the supply is plentiful. They got as high as 40 lira in the winter.
Chopped beef and the cheap cuts of beef - the former about sixty-five cents a pound. That’s American money, remember, that sixty-five cents. All right for the Detroit automotive plant worker whose average wage is well above a dollar and a half an hour. But rough on the Italian, even the lucky Italian who has a job in a well-paying automotive plant in Turin at between thirty and forty cents an hour.
Veal for the famous veal scallopini? Never. It is far, far too expensive.
An electric stove is a rarity in an Italian household, although Italian householders are being encouraged to use electricity by an “industrial rate” which is considerably under the rate charged for lighting.
I visited one kitchen, a kitchen considered well equipped in these parts. There was an old gas range - with overhead vent. A great grey marble sink and drain board. A wooden cupboard where the day’s milk supply - two quart-sized bottles in a family with half a dozen children. And over in the corner a tiny, tiny chest that would be at home in many a small American girl’s toy kitchen - for ice in summer.
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